Fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel, All the Light We Cannot See, have waited seven years for Cloud Cuckoo Land. But where All the Light We Cannot See focused on two characters during a single time period—the lead-up to the bombing of Saint Malo, France, in World War II—Cloud Cuckoo Land pings among different eras.
In this multiple-timeline story, the large array of mostly young characters includes 13-year-old Anna, an orphan working in an embroidery workshop in 1453 Constantinople, and Omeir, a farm boy who’s conscripted into the sultan’s army as it prepares to lay siege to Constantinople in that same year. Moving forward in time, we meet Zeno, son of a Greek immigrant living in post-World War II Lakeport, Idaho; and Seymour, a lonely boy in present-day Lakeport. And in the future, 13-year-old Konstance lives aboard the Argos, a spaceship that’s left a ravaged Earth for a better planet.
Threaded throughout their stories are sections of an ancient (fictional) Greek text titled “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” which tells the story of Aethon, who wishes he could fly to a city in the clouds “where no one ever suffered and everyone was wise.”
While the changes in points of view can be dizzying at first, Doerr’s writing grounds the reader in homely but often beautiful details: Anna’s daily rounds in the walled city; Omeir’s patient work with his oxen team, Moonlight and Tree; the friendship that Zeno finds with a British soldier when he’s a prisoner during the Korean War; the comfort that Seymour takes from the forest behind his trailer; and the stories told by Konstance’s dad to keep her occupied on their journey. Anna, Omeir, Zeno, Seymour and Konstance all face great loss and danger, and the reader keeps turning pages to discover not only whether each of them survive but also how they’re all linked.
This is an ambitious, genre-busting novel, with climate change as a major undercurrent. And while sorrow and violence play large roles, so does tenderness. Like All the Light We Cannot See, Cloud Cuckoo Land resolves into a well-connected plot, with threaded connections that are unexpected yet inevitable, offering hope and some surprising acts of redemption.